Atari Teenage Riot‘s return after four years is both exhilarating and frustrating. Exhilarating for the sheer brilliance of their new album Reset, which sounds as urgent, desperate and blistering in its anger as anything Alec Empire and then comrades Hanin Elias and Carl Crack created in their formative years in the early ’90s. Frustrating because ATR’s key themes – their raison d’etre – battling neo-Nazism, government control and spreading their anarchic punk views, are more relevant now than they’ve ever been.
An apocalyptic cocktail of grave social warnings and political charged protest, Reset – ATR’s fifth album – is utter chaos. It could be dismissed as cute, naive even, if it weren’t for the deafening electronics and layers of samples, and some of the band’s best tunes to date. With Empire at their helm, ATR have been through various formations since their first incarnation in Berlin in 1993. At present he’s flanked by Nic Endo and British rapper Rowdy Superstar. They’re a great mix; the latter’s straight-up hip hop heightens the tension, while Endo’s ice-cool delivery brings an almost creepy edge to their mish mash of sound.
Violence and gut wrenching fear is at Reset’s core. J1M1’s “Face to the ground, face to the ground, if they had their way we’d be face to the ground/ They try to hurt you for the hurt they see in you, don’t let it break you” is unsettling enough while unsurprisingly, Death Machine’s opening line is chilling: “Death machine, flame thrower, gas mask, instigator, hit it, computing helps extermination, there must be something we can do about it.”
Of course this stuff is all old hat to Empire, who’s been slavishly using his own music and record label, Digital Hardcore, as a means of protest for decades, and he anger that seeps through Reset’s every pore must surely be in part down to this. It’s a sentiment echoed in the opening line to Modern Liars: “We dedicate this song to all hackers, DJs, activists, all riot grrrls”; ATR have been hackers since long before the internet. They’re a voice for the modern anarchist; intense, industrial electronics playing out the confusion and intolerence of the modern world while ATR try to make sense of it all. Despite being entirely electro-based, ATR continue to be one of the hardest, punkest bands around.
If it all sounds a but intense – and it is – there’s plenty to enjoy in the music too, although escaping the lyrics, with their dominant delivery, is almost impossible. Reset is ATR’s most musical record. Its title track is a real fist pumper; an anthemic club track, with Endo’s catchy refrain looping over and over. Similarly, We Are The Internet is a lighter sounding, almost dreamy ode to the revolutionary benefits of the web.
For all its blaring noise and sneering obnoxiousness, its probably ATR’s most accessible album; playing Reset feels like lighting a fuse and detonating something. Except there’s nowhere to run for cover from its violence, terror and defiance. It will get your blood pumping and your brain ticking. Empire’s ambitions for the record are surely met.